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Mom Concerned Her Teen Is Having A Hard Time During The Pandemic

August 12, 2020 | By | 1 Reply Continue Reading

A teen is having a hard time handling social distancing and wearing masks, and this mom asks for help .

QUESTION

Dr. Irene,

Hi, I’m really struggling with my 17-year-old daughter during this pandemic. She only wants to see her boyfriend, but we have only let her see him social-distancing at our house.

It’s causing depression, anxiety, and so much tension in our house. How can I help her? Even her friends are not willing to wear masks and it’s so disappointing. Help.

Concerned Mom

ANSWER

Hi Concerned Mom,

It is tough to balance health and mental health concerns during this pandemic, especially when it comes to parenting teens. 

I’m not sure where you live and what the rate of infection is in your community, and whether your daughter or anyone in your family is especially vulnerable to the virus. These considerations have to weigh in as you assess the risks of your daughter socializing. 

As you suggest, masks and social distancing (along with hand-washing) are the only non-pharmacological interventions on hand right now to mitigate the spread of the virus. I’m sure you’ve made this clear to your daughter and have also told her that if she doesn’t adhere to these measures, in addition to herself, she would be placing you and any other members of your family at greater risk.

However, that doesn’t negate the fact that it is extraordinarily difficult for teens to adjust to long separations from their peers. Many are having a hard time.

It seems reasonable that you allow your daughter to see her boyfriend, wearing masks and social distancing, preferably outdoors. I’m not sure what your daughter is asking for. Is it more frequent contact with her boyfriend? Spending time with him unsupervised? Being able to be physically closer to him? Or, is it that she wants to spend time with him and other friends? 

A few thoughts:

A recent article in New Scientist suggests that people benefit from hugs and that there may be ways to hug more safely. This includes: avoiding face-to-face contact, using face coverings, pointing faces in opposite directions. and not touching the other person’s face or clothing with your face. Virginia Tech scientist Lindsey Marr points out that this type of contact can’t be spontaneous: It should be brief and needs to be planned in advance. Of course, close contact like this increases risk so would have to be something with which you feel comfortable.

Do you know her boyfriend’s parents and have any sense of their feelings about taking risks? If not, you might suggest that your daughter, her boyfriend and both parents talk about what feels comfortable for both families. 

Some experts suggest that teenagers should be allowed to socialize in “pods” or “bubbles,” which allow them to interact with a small number of people without social distancing. Of course, this needs to be approached with precautions in place. Speaking about the social needs of young adults in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Anne Marie Albano, a professor in the department of psychiatry at Columbia University, noted: “If you pen them in…you’re going to make your kids more depressed and anxious” and thus, more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

Another way to broaden your daughter’s social circle would be to allow her to have socially distanced get-togethers with a limited number of friends outdoors, at your home, once or twice a month. In between these get-togethers, the teens might be able to stay in touch using Zoom. Since the gatherings would be at your home, you would be the one who sets the rules about mask-wearing.

However, if you feel that your daughter’s depression or anxiety is persisting and affecting her functioning (e.g., eating, sleeping, ability to study, etc.), it may be helpful to find someone for her to speak to. You might start out by asking your internist for the name of a mental health professional who conducts teletherapy (the cost is often covered by many health insurers).

You also you might encourage your daughter cultivate some of her other independent interests (music, art, reading or whatever else) so she feels a sense of fulfillment in other areas of her life.

Your daughter is fortunate that you are attuned to both her physical and mental health needs. I understand how difficult this must be for you especially since there aren’t any clear roadmaps. You can only try your best. I hope this helps a little. 

My best, Irene 


Are there any other moms of teens who have found strategies to help their teens in lockdown?

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Category: Child and adolescent friendships

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  1. Amy says:

    Soon your daughter will be off to college and you won’t be able to micromanage her activities. At seventeen, you need to start allowing her to make more adult choices, so that she’s capable of doing so when she’s on her own. You also want to continue to keep the lines of communication open, so that she doesn’t feel like she has to sneak around behind your back and that she feels open to talking to you, a seventeen year old wanting to spend time with her boyfriend is developmentally appropriate. She should, if she desires, be exploring her sexuality and what being in a romantic relationship means to her. Of course everything is different with COVID, but that doesn’t mean adolescent developmental needs shut down even if the country goes on lockdown. Your relationship with your daughter could hinge on how easy or difficult you make seeing her boyfriend.
    A COVID test might ease your mind, if results are returned quickly and contact with others is limited. One of my most careful friends allows her teens one friend where they don’t need to social distance.

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